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Founders Brewing to Reopen Detroit Taproom Following Lawsuit Controversy

The taproom will once again open on Thursday, February 6

A man walks up the path to Founders Brewing Company’s Detroit brew pub on a sunny afternoon.
Founders Brewing Company will reopen on Thursday, February 6.
Michelle and Chris Gerard
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Three months after its abrupt closure, Founders Brewing Company is preparing to reopen the doors at its Detroit taproom at 11 a.m. on Thursday, February 6. The brewery returns to Detroit following the settlement of a racial discrimination lawsuit and that incited national controversy and backlash against the Michigan brand.

As part of the company’s effort to rebuild its image, Founders announced in November plans to donate 100 percent of profits from the Detroit taproom to local community organizations through 2022.

“After three months of progress behind-the-scenes, now is the best time to honor our commitments in Detroit and reopen the Detroit taproom,” Grand Rapids-based brewery co-founder Mike Stevens says in a statement. “While our intentions were good when we first launched the taproom in 2017, we need to make more efforts to connect in meaningful ways with the City of Detroit. We’re going to do this right and we look forward to sharing the journey with our fans, community partners and business partners.”

Founders closed in Detroit on October 25, citing concerns for staff safety after a deposition transcript related to the ongoing racial discrimination lawsuit leaked to the press. In that deposition, Founders Brewing Company’s then-general manager in Detroit, Dominic Ryan, appeared to avoid acknowledging that plaintiff and former employee Tracy Evans was black. Evans and Founders eventually settled the lawsuit in October. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

In a release, Founders states that it has hired Emily Faulkner as general manager, replacing Ryan. The earnings from the taproom will be distributed to three Detroit charities for the next three years and the brewer has pledged to work with the City of Detroit and its Detroit At Work program to hire more qualified residents. The brewery is also developing a hospitality training program in concert with Detroit At Work. Additionally, Founders is partnering with the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan to host health and wellness programs for residents and employees.

“We’re not viewing the Detroit taproom as a profit center but instead as a hub for community engagement with the residents of the city,” brewery co-founder and president Dave Engbers says in a release.

Founders hired Thomas Consulting Group principal Buzz Thomas to take over as interim director for diversity in November. He replaced Graci Harkema, who resigned on October 25 after less than a year with the company. Harkema claimed in her resignation statement that Founders’ leadership was more concerned with winning a lawsuit than with the reputation of employees and the brand. In his new role, Thomas has partnered with Global Bridgebuilders, a group that consults with companies to help improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Meanwhile, Founders has officially changed hands. The company announced plans to transfer 90 percent ownership to Spanish brewer Mahou San Miguel over the summer. That deal has since closed.

Founders Brewing Plans to Reopen Detroit Taproom in 2020 [ED]
Founders Settles Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Filed by Former Employee [ED]
Founders Tells CBS Beer Release Ticket Holders It’s Closing the Detroit Taproom ‘Until Further Notice’ [ED]

Founders Brewing Company

456 Charlotte St., Detroit, MI Visit Website